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2022 Team Preview: Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux

2022 Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux will be led in sprints by Alexander Kristoff, who models new kits with teammates
2022 Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux will be led in sprints by Alexander Kristoff, who models new kits with teammates (Image credit: @cyclingmedia_agency/ Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux)

Who?

  • Manager: Jean-François Bourlart
  • Squad size: 29
  • Average age: 28

Formerly Circus-Wanty Gobert, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert was founded in 2008 as a Continental team and three years later moved to second-level status under the names of Veranda's Willems, Accent Jobs–Wanty and then Wanty–Gobert. In the fall of 2020, management of the team acquired the WorldTour license of the former CCC Team and moved into the top tier of the sport for the very first time.

To gear up for the top tier last year, the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux reinforced its roster with nine signings, which did not include a star sprinter or a leading GC man but did pay dividends with signature Grand Tour stage wins by newcomers Taco van der Hoorn at the Giro and Rein Taaramäe at the Vuelta. 

The Belgian team returns two-thirds of its roster as it looks to solidify a core contingency, and has signed nine new riders to amplify its presence in the peloton. The most significant casting call was filled by Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff, as well as his lead-out man Sven Erik Bystrøm, from UAE Team Emirates for the next two seasons. The team also added a pair of Lotto Soudal riders, Goossens for general classification aspirations and Gerben Thijssen as a weapon in one-day races.

The Team also extended its contract with breakout talent Biniam Girmay, just 21, who joined from Delko in early August. He will lead the charge of eight riders under the age of 25 next season. The parade of sponsors return in full with French supermarket chain Intermarché, and two Belgian companies, engineering firm Wanty and building materials provider Groupe Gobert Matériaux.

How they fare in 2021?

Team Wanty rider Netherlands Taco Van der Hoorn rides in the last kilometers on his way to win the third stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race 190 km between Biella and Canale Piedmont on May 10 2021 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

Taco van der Hoorn wins stage 3 of the Giro (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Wins: 9

World ranking: 14th

While Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert more than doubled the meager four wins from the previous year, 2021 was a sluggish start to their fledgling WorldTour campaign. There were a series of rider exploits to raise some eyebrows and team mentions on broadcasts, but no hardware to put in the showcase – at La Flèche Wallonne it was Maurits Lammertink who charged solo in the lead until the final kilometre; Loïc Vliegen and Lorenzo Rota animated Liège-Bastogne-Liège for more than 200 kilometers; and at Milan-San Remo, Taco van der Hoorn was the last to survive in a 270-kilometer breakaway, including an attempt to ride solo on the Cipressa.

Finally in May, Danny van Poppel scored a pair of second-place finishes in the Volta ao Algarve. Then Van der Hoorn delivered the first victory of the season on stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia, succeeding with a 190-kilometer breakaway as he crossed the line in Canale ahead of a charging field. 

Jean-François Bourlart, team manager, called that Giro feat the “necessary trigger” for the rest of the season, and the team went on to chalk up eight more wins. At the opening Grand Tour of the season, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert tallied nine top 10 finishes. It was the team’s first-ever Giro appearance, and all eight riders reached Milan after 21 stages.

While the team lost three riders in crashes in the first week of the Tour de France, Louis Meintjes finished 14th in the GC and the six riders reaching Paris all obtained a top 10 during the Grand Tour, highlighted by a sixth place for Van Poppel in the sprint on the Champs-Elysées. One of those riders, Georg Zimmerman, another U23 revelation, carried on after his first Tour and delivered a victory in the Tour de l’Ain. 

In the team’s first Vuelta appearance, Taaramäe earned a stage 3 win at Picón Blanco and spent two days in the red jersey. After stage 10, Odd Christian Eiking regained the leader’s jersey and carried it for seven more days, and finished 11th in the final GC.

In the fall, more breakaway heroics paid dividends with wins by Van der Hoorn in the Benelux Tour and Omloop van het Houtland. Girmay took his first European victory in the Classic Grand Besançon then made history at the World Championships in Leuven by becoming the first Black African on the podium, taking a silver medal in the U23 road race. 

Away from chronicles of race results was the individual perseverance of Lammertink, who was hit by a motorbike in the summer outside an ice cream parlour while spending time off with his partner and children. He suffered a fractured skull, causing multiple haemorrhages and a coma, with emergency surgery. After six months, the Dutchman continues multiple therapies in a rehabilitation centre in his home country and is waiting to hear from the team about his status.

In for 2022: Alexander Kristoff and Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates), Laurens Huys (Bingoal WB), Gerben Thijssen and Kobe Goossens (Lotto Soudal), Julius Johansen (Uno-X), Hugo Page (neo-pro from Groupama-FDJ), Dmitri Claeys (Qhubeka NextHash), Adrien Petit (TotalEnergies), Barnabás Peák (Team BikeExchange)

Out for 2022: Odd Christian Eiking (EF-Nippo), Ludwig De Winter (retires), Wesley Kreder (Cofidis), Danny van Poppel (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jonas Koch (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (retires), Stijn Daemen (ABLOC)

Key riders

Alexander Kristoff: The big Norwegian is now 34, but he brings 100 career victories to the Intermarché assembly, including four stages of the Tour de France. His younger legs carried him to a Milan-San Remo victory in 2014 and a Tour of Flanders victory in 2015. He remained consistent during his four years at UAE Team Emirates, including two stage wins at the Tour de France, a win at Gent-Wevelgem and back-to-back podiums at the Tour of Flanders in 2019 and 2020.

Last year he had seven podiums, including two stage wins at Deutschland Tour at the end of the year. Returning to a leadership role, and Bystrøm ushering him to the front again, should provide a spark and give the team a fresh approach for March and April.

“Kristoff will be an important rider because he’s bringing us to a new level in the Classics and maybe in some sprints, he’ll be up there too,” said director sportif Valerio Piva, who managed Kristoff for two seasons at Katusha for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

LEUVEN BELGIUM SEPTEMBER 24 Silver medalist Biniam Girmay of Eritrea celebrates winning during the medal ceremony after the 94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 Men U23 Road Race a 1609km race from Antwerp to Leuven flanders2021 on September 24 2021 in Leuven Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Biniam Girmay won a silver medal at U23 Worlds road race for Eritrea (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Biniam Girmay: Girmay was a late-season transfer in early August from Delko and just a month later landed his first victory in Europe at the Classic Grand Besançon Doubs, where he won from a break that included Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Nairo Quintana (Team Arkea-Samsic).

After his silver-medal display at the World Championships, the 21-year-old completed his campaign with fifth-place finishes at La Route Adélie and Gran Piemonte, then ended with the African Cyclist of the Year award. A product of the World Cycling Centre in 2018, Girmay, who turns 22 in April, is a rising star for the Dutch team.

Rein Taaramäe: The day after Van Poppel ignited the team’s fire with their first-ever Giro stage win, Rein Taaramäe animated a breakaway on stage 4 in the rain across a mountainous course and held onto a top 10 finish. He followed that with the Estonian time trial championship.

He finished third in the Sazka Tour, then followed that with a solid win in the Vuelta, on the third stage towards Picon Blanco. The Estonian rider also took over the reins in the general and mountains classifications, a position he kept for two days until a crash diverted him from the red jersey. At 34 years old, he proved to be a solid addition.

Taco van der Hoorn: After few chances to shine at Jumbo-Visma, Van der Hoorn had a breakout year in 2021 at Intermarché accounting for one-third of the team’s total victories, including the hallmark Giro stage win. His second WorldTour victory of the year was at the Benelux Tour, followed by a sprint win from a successful breakaway at Omloop van het Houtland. Neither a climber or a sprinter, Van der Hoorn just digs deep whenever he can, which is a proven formula with the Dutch team.

Louis Meintjes: The beacon of his first season the team was a 14th place finish at the Tour de France. He was 18th in the UAE Tour and 23rd at Paris-Nice, then unable to claim a high finish in the Vuelta when he crashed out on stage 19 while sitting 10th overall. The South African signed a two-year contract extension, so continues to be a vital part of the plan for stage races and grooming the young all-rounders.

Lorenzo Rota: The 26-year-old Italian is one of the few climbers on the squad. Rota had a solid second half of the season in one-day races with seven top 10s, including fourth place at the Clásica San Sebastian and a string of results at the Italian classics - fourth at Giro della Toscana, fifth at Coppa Sabatini, and seventh at Tre Valli Varesine.

Strengths

The sprint train now has an identity, as Kristoff was signed specifically to play a catalytic role in sprints for Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux in their second full WorldTour campaign.

The Norwegian may have lost some of his speed but there should be enough spark to ignite the front of the sprint train, especially in the Monuments where he has won before. Even his lead-out man, Bystrøm, the 2014 U23 World Champion, brings depth as he finished the end of last season with 10th in GC at Tour of Norway and 11th at Deutschland Tour. 

The team did well to extend contracts with several riders, including the aggressive Van der Hoorn, surprising Girmay, and under-rated Andrea Pasqualon, who had 14 top 10s including podiums to bookend the year at GP Samyn in March and Ronde van Drenthe in October.

Weaknesses

The team still lacks strong climbers and experienced GC leadership. The team will continue to be “opportunistic” in 2022 as they did during their maiden season in the WorldTour, but can no longer rely on the offensive attacks from Odd Christian Eiking (departed for EF Education-Postmate) and Danny van Poppel (now at Bora-Hansgrohe), who accounted for a large haul of top results.

They’ve added a star sprinter, but it may be a little too late for the 34-year-old veteran to be a factor on a heavy schedule of Classics and stage races. A stable of up-and-coming talents are a large variable.  

Verdict

Now in its 15th season, Wanty-Intermarché-Gobert Matériaux grabs attention and results with grit and gumption from a long list of aggressive riders, but until this year didn’t have a leading man to give it some glitz and glamour.

The team should remain faithful to its aggressive style of racing, and as the core roster develops cohesion in a second season together, they can leverage the experience for higher dividends in both one-day and stage races. 

They scored a tour de force by signing veteran sprinter Kristoff and lead-out man Bystrøm to make impressions earlier in the season, and need only look back at the second half of 2021 to recall that Samson can slay Goliath, and it can happen more often.

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Jackie Tyson

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in  Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).